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By BILLY SINGLETON
Daily News Staff Writer
The first of two summer fishing periods for Southeast Alaska’s commercial troll fishery will conclude on Saturday night, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced Friday.
The target allocation for the period was 51,800 fish — one of the lowest, if not the lowest, July harvests for the fishery on record, Fish and Game Troll Fishery Biologist Grant Hagerman told the Daily News on Friday.
The July opening targeted about 70 percent of the remaining 2018 king allocation following the winter and spring troll fisheries. A second opening, targeting whatever amount of harvest is left over from July’s retention period, is planned for August.
Low harvests were expected this summer, primarily due to very low king salmon abundance throughout the region. The overall 2018 commercial troll allocation was set accordingly — it was also possibly the lowest on record, Hagerman said.
But even with a lower allocation and high prices, the fishery has moved much more slowly this season than is typical. Hagerman gave a number of potential explanations, including low fishing effort and an unusual spatial distribution of fish.
“One of the things that really stood out was the number of permits fished this year,” Hagerman said. “The estimate that we have is almost several hundred permits fewer than what the average has been for the last five or 10 years. So pulling several hundred permits out of the fishery, especially in a two-week fishery, adds up to a substantial amount of fish.”
Hagerman speculated that the low effort could have stemmed from poor abundance, a growing fleet of chum trollers with opportunities that coincided with the July opening for kings, and an apparently strong troll fishery on the Lower 48’s West Coast.
He added that this year’s kings were widely dispersed and often far from shore.
“Much of the fish have been very far off shore, you know, 10 to 15 miles out — just not in the typical areas that trollers fish for chinook salmon,” Hagerman said.
“It just took some time for the trollers to find fish, but when they did find good bites, they were very short lived,” he added. “Maybe a 24-hour bite, and then the fish either got caught up or moved. They’re moving quite a bit from day to day, it seems like. So the trollers have spent a lot more time and a lot more fuel having to move from place to place, you know, day to day as the bites drop off.”
Further information regarding the summer’s final opening will not be available until Fish and Game finishes collecting harvest data from the initial period. The second opening will target around 2,200 fish if the initial opening hit its 70-percent goal, Hagerman said. But he added that it typically moves more slowly than the first.
“The July opening is the peak of abundance for kings, as they’re moving through Southeast,” he said. “So I would anticipate the August opening to be probably lower catch rates.”